Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Shannon Wright: Heroic Measures, at Mulherin + Pollard

Folly (Colosseum of Rome) 2, 2014
Archival dye-infused print on aluminum
27.7” x 37.4”
Folly (Colosseum of Rome) 1, 2014
Archival dye-infused print on aluminum
27.7” x 37.4”


Installation view: Folly (Colosseum of Rome), 2014
Galvanized steel pipe and fence hardware
88” x 141” x 116”
Installation view: Folly (Colosseum of Rome), 2014
Galvanized steel pipe and fence hardware
88” x 141” x 116”
Flourish (Public Art), 2014
Galvanized steel pipe, hardware, sandbags
65” x 96” x 20.5”

Flourish (Public Art) 1, 2014
Archival dye-infused print on aluminum
16” x 24”
Flourish (Public Art) 2, 2014
Archival dye-infused print on aluminum
16” x 24”




Historic Preservationist Series (Heavy Equipment Tires)
Four archival dye-infused prints on aluminum, 30” x 28”
2014
with Brendan Coyle

Snaidhm Cheilteach (Celtic knot)
After Irish cable knit patterns

Gireh Chini (knotted/ interlaced pattern)

After stone tiles in the Sircali Medrese, Konya, Turkey, 1240 AD
Ice-Ray (cracked-ice pattern)
After Chinese window lattice patterns, Szechwan, 1850 AD
Parcham (Banner/flag pattern)
            After tiles in the Alcazar de Seville, Spain, 1364 AD

Contributors to these projects:

Brendan Coyle, Digital Artist
Ninh Filip
Pete Farrell III
Michael Farrell  

THANK YOU!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summer 2013 Update

Last year, my entire summer was stolen from me when my landlords announced that they were not renewing my lease. They explained that they were going to turn my 680 square-foot one-bedroom apartment into a two bedroom apartment by building two new walls in the living room. (They did this in about five days and raised the rent by $425.00. Impressive!) So, I spent the entire summer searching for an affordable apartment in San Jose, and then moving, during this terrible rent spike. This summer I was determined to make up as much as possible for lost time. So, I haven't done a day of vacation-type things, but have just worked on art (plus the inevitable school issues that come up on most days.)
While I work on new projects, I have two pieces in a show called Navigating the New that's currently up at Pro Arts in Oakland. Here is a review of the show, which came out the other day. And here is a picture from Pro Arts' Facebook page.

Photo via Pro Arts, Oakland

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bob Robinson Makes a Classical Guitar

Hey wow, a new blog post! I stumbled on this amazing video about a month ago, of my friend Bob Robinson. I worked for Bob for only about a year and a half, right after grad school, in his custom furniture shop in Chicago. It was from Bob that I learnt most of what I know about woodworking. I left when Bob decided to pursue a longtime dream of becoming a veterinarian. Fortunately for the world, he quickly changed his plan and returned to another longtime dream of making classical guitars. I suggest watching this video in its entirety, because it's really cool. Bob Robinson: Luthier
Bob and his wife Deirdre have been running a high-end furniture business called Troscan Design for many years now, and he makes the beautiful guitars on the side.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Mechanical Reproduction" at Mulherin + Pollard Projects

I spent an intense three weeks in the SJSU Art building over the winter break, completing a new piece. The heat was off in the building and the rooms were 50 Fahrenheit and below, and for some of the time the water was turned off too, while some major repairs were being done in the building. Additionally, everything that could go wrong on this project, did–– several times! I still need to make more of these stamps, both larger and smaller (with different patterns) to complete the series. The piece is called "Mechanical Reproduction"–– a reference to Walter Benjamin's famous essay from 1936, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Here is a brief statement I wrote about the piece:

The current series of oversized rubber stamps evolved as a whimsical tangent to a long-term project I am engaged in that involves casting black rubber tire treads. For me, this piece is about the tyranny of standardization. Damask wallpaper is a trope which connotes opulence and a bygone romantic era, while rubber stamps are frequently associated with bureaucracy and mindless repetition. These giant rubber stamps are hard to control, and their users will struggle to build up a logically repeating pattern. Perhaps they will quickly abandon all attempts at creating order, and succumb to more impulsive, chaotic overlays. In many cases there will be almost enough room for a stamped unit, but not quite, and the pattern will be forced to abruptly end. I am interested in exploring the many possible narratives that might arise from the use of this rudimentary but highly allusive form of mechanical reproduction. 

The first step to making this piece was drawing the damask pattern in Illustrator. I spent a month at the end of last summer making the drawing, and then had to refine the mold and rubber-pouring process which I had developed with my first tire tread piece. Unfortunately, there were many more urgent refinements I had to figure out on a tight deadline over the winter break.

Here are a few process pictures of the piece, and me in the amazing new powered air purifying respirator that I purchased with a generous SJSU Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity grant. I wore this every day that I worked on the project–– it protects against both organic vapours and particulates.

Four chunks of 16/4 basswood ready to glue into a block to turn on the lathe. I used the dowels to keep the seams lined up perfectly.

 Clamping up the block of basswood.

 The turning "blank" ready for the lathe.

 Cautiously beginning to lay out the dimensions.

A very backlit action shot on the lathe, with the camera sitting in the tool cabinet!

 The stamp handle takes form on the lathe.

 The handle next to the smaller test handle I made (the small one will eventually go on a smaller stamp.)

 Cutting the flat spot on the huge resaw bandsaw.

 The stamp body was made from 12/4 basswood which I could only find at MacBeath Hardwoods up in Berkeley.

 Drilling out the hole for the handle tenon using my carbide-tipped Forstner bits.

The system I came up with to make the stamp able to be disassembled. A threaded steel "cross-dowel" is embedded at 90 degrees to the tenon.

My amazing new 3M Powered Air Purifying Respirator, with belt-mounted fan and battery pack.


John Pollard of ADA Gallery in Richmond, VA and Mulherin + Pollard Projects in New York, invited me to install the piece in the NY gallery, in a two-person show with artist Jared Lindsay Clark. The show opened last Friday, February 3rd.

Below, are pictures of the installation called Mechanical Reproduction, at Mulherin + Pollard Projects, 187 Chrystie St., NYC.
 
"Mechanical Reproduction," (stamp,) 2012. 14" x 14" x 14".

 "Mechanical Reproduction," (stamp,) 2012. 14" x 14" x 14".

"Mechanical Reproduction,"(stamp,) 2012, at Mulherin + Pollard Projects, NYC. Cast urethane rubber, neoprene, basswood, paint, hardware.

 "Mechanical Reproduction,"(stamp,) 2012.  Cast urethane rubber, neoprene, basswood, paint, hardware.

 "Mechanical Reproduction," hand-stamped walls. Latex paint.

 "Mechanical Reproduction,"view from front door.

Action shot, stamping the wall. Image courtesy of Mulherin + Pollard Projects.

Stamping the wall. Image courtesy of Mulherin + Pollard Projects.


All images copyright, Shannon Wright.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shannon's Rules and Rants

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This is my answer to "Lester's Laws," which I love. I had my students read them this semester, and I realized that by now I have my own set of issues that come up semester after semester in my teaching. I thought it might save some time to just write them down and give them out in advance, to each of my classes. These are nowhere near as cool and succinct as Lester's Laws, but they do have their own very specific purpose. I intend to add to this list as I remember things that frequently come up.

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Purely Practical Issues For Students In My Classes

Michael's Arts and Crafts
Please don't look for materials for use in my classes at Michael's, unless the piece you're making is about kitsch and potpourri.
You can find everything you will need for my classes at Home Depot, Orchard Supply Hardware, McMaster-Carr Supply, Douglas and Sturgess, Aura Hardwoods, junkyards, recycle centres and thrift stores.
Don't go to Tap Plastics to buy plexiglas unless you want to spend four times what is necessary. Sabic Polymer Shapes is the best place to buy acrylic sheet locally.

Test it on a Scrap
Whatever you are planning to do, do a test first on a scrap. "Scrap" doesn't mean a one-inch square morsel of your material. It means a decent-sized piece that you have set aside for testing purposes. If you are planning to drill 20 holes that need to accommodate certain hardware or a certain size of dowel, drill a test hole in a scrap of the same material, and try the hardware or the dowel. This will tell you if you've chosen the right size and kind of drill bit. If your wood (for example) tears, then you probably need a brad-point bit, not a twist bit. If you are planning to put a finish on your piece, you need to use a decent-sized scrap of the very same material you are using, sand it thoroughly, and do a series of colour/ finish tests before you do anything to your actual piece. Test EVERYTHING first.

Never Drag Anything
"Dragging" is not an acceptable method of moving materials, art objects, furniture or pedestals from one place to another. Dragging scrapes off the surface of one material and leaves it embedded in the other. In my classes, you will pick things up and carry them. If this requires two people, then you need to ask a classmate to help you. Alternately, check out a handtruck from the wood shop.

Aesthetic Issues, and Some Historical Precedents

Illusionistic Paintwork
Unless your piece is ABOUT optical illusions or camouflage, illusionistic painting of sculpture is usually a bad idea. The illusionistic modeling will cancel out everything "real" you've done. By "illusionistic" I am referring to any use of paint that involves modeling or colour gradations (such as spray-paint "fades".) I suggest using flat areas of colour within any given plane.
More on this, from the art historian E.H. Gombrich's book, The Sense of Order:

"Pugin detected such an illogicality at least when illusionistic design was used for wallpapers. For if a naturalistic representation in light and shade is repeated all around the room the shadows in the design will inevitably be found to conflict somewhere with the real fall of light from the windows."

So, if you're going to bother to make sculpture, let the three-dimensional object do its work, in tandem with light and shadows. Don't muddy it with illusionistic paintwork.

Fishing Line
Hanging an object from fishing line does not fool the viewer into thinking the object is hovering unsuspended. Your viewer probably has as well-developed an understanding about how gravity works as you do. For this reason, suspension systems should look intentional and be fully integrated into the piece, and conceived during the earliest developmental stages of the piece. The material and system used for suspension should contribute meaning and references to the piece.
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If you insist on using fishing line, at the very least, please don't buy it at Michael's! Buy it at a fishing-supply store. Mel Cotton's sporting goods store on Race and San Carlos St, is a good place to buy fishing line locally.
Stain, and Integrity of Materials
Stain is just thinned-down brown paint. There is nothing mysterious or alchemical about it. If you want a decent-looking dark wood, then use a dark wood (for example, mahogany, walnut or cherry.) Don't buy a blonde wood and stain it. The exception is, if you are making a piece predicated on the idea of trompe l'oeil, "fooling the eye." And then you had better fool us well. Otherwise, first try making some successful projects that rely on the sculptural qualities of your object, and the natural colour of the wood. Once you have demonstrated a thorough understanding of sanding and application of a clear coat ––I suggest Minwax Wipe-On Poly, Satin finish, three to four coats, sanded very delicately with 320 grit sandpaper between coats­–– then it would be reasonable to start doing tests with more complicated finishes.

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On the subject of getting the greatest effect from an affordable material, please read this excerpt from John Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849):

It may be that we don't desire ornament of so high an order: choose, then, a less developed style, as also, if you will, rougher material; the law which we are enforcing requires only that that what we pretend to do and to give, shall both be the best of their kind; choose, therefore, the Norman hatchet work, instead of the Flaxman frieze and statue, but let it be the best hatchet work; and if you cannot afford marble, use Caen stone, but from the best bed; and if not stone, brick, but the best brick; preferring always what is good of a lower order of work or material, to what is bad of a higher; for this is not only the way to improve every kind of work, and to put every kind of material to better use; but it is more honest and unpretending, and is in harmony with other just, upright, and manly principles, whose range we shall have presently to take into consideration.

Of course, if your piece is about artifice, contrivance, cheap illusions or even hard-won illusions–– then Ruskin's treatise, or the famous architectural mantra of "truth to materials," probably won't apply to you.

Expressionism/ Expressive/ Self-Expression
Do not confuse the art movements called "Expressionism" and "Abstract Expressionism" with the word "expressive." Work that looks like it was made while the artist was having a temper tantrum is no more expressive than work that looks like it was done while the artist was meditating. To put it another way, a contemplative drawing made with technical pencils, rulers, and compasses
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On a related subject: the frequently perpetuated myth that the artist's self-expression is the sole purpose of art, is a meme that was generated, at least in part, by a few influential individuals during the late 1800s. In his book, The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, (1979,) E.H. Gombrich explains one of the origins of this myth:

"Before the [19th] century was out, the designer Godfrey Blount wrote in a book 'for teachers, handicraftsmen and others' characteristically entitled Arbor Vitae: 'A mathematical pattern is always a bad pattern... Let us rid our minds of the idea that there is any abstract value in Art apart from expression. Expression is the all-in-all of every kind of art, patterns included.' Things could never be the same again after precision and finish had been so violently denounced as inartistic and indeed wicked. Even though we no longer hate the machine and have learnt to enjoy the mathematical precision which it can give to functional products, we are still under the spell of the polarities introduced by Ruskin and like to see the handmade article display those signs of happy carelessness which he praised as a sign of life."

(Yes, oddly enough, this was the same Ruskin who made such good points above, on the subject of the integrity of materials!)
Personal expression is, of course, one of the things that art is good for. Equally interesting, though, is art's ability to look outward, to comment on the larger culture beyond the individual "self." In his book, Vision in Motion (1947,) the artist László Moholy-Nagy offers an inspiring interpretation of the "function of art," as follows:

"It tries to produce a balance of the social, intellectual and emotional existence; a synthesis of attitudes and opinions, fears and hopes. Art has two faces, the biological and the social, the one toward the individual and the other toward the group. By expressing fundamental validities and common problems, art can produce a feeling of coherence. This is its social function which leads to a cultural synthesis as well as to a continuation of human civilization."

There Are No Innocuous or Neutral Materials
No material, connective system, or finish choice is "neutral," or a "non-issue." Any material you can use comes with its own baggage: the meaning and associations connected to that material. Sculptor Tony Cragg, in his catalog A New Thing Breathing, writes:

"...in our language and our thoughts about natural things like wood, stone, fire, we have around these things a sort of balloon of information and associations, and natural things always have very substantial balloons of information around them; the thing has its physical qualities, but the balloon around it is metaphysical. It's the aspects we bring to that object. It's history, mythology, meaning, and beauty."

When designing a piece of sculpture, consider these associations as carefully as you consider the material's physical or structural qualities. The material that is perfect for one idea will be all wrong for another, even if you feel that you are technically more proficient in the use of one material than another.

Arranging Stuff versus Inventing Stuff
If you just love old found objects... then start an antique store or an architectural salvage store. 
Alternately, you could take a design history course and learn about the cultural and political climates that led to the production of those objects, and also study how they were made.  Teach yourself to design and build your own objects that are as compelling and mysterious and well-made as the ones you love, and let them tell the very story you want to tell. 

Installation Art Is Not the Same Thing As Installation Of Art
According to Wikipedia, "Installation art describes an artistic genre of three-dimensional works that are often site-specific and designed to transform the perception of a space."  I teach a class in which students are expected to create installation art. It is not a museum preparator class designed to teach the correct way to hang a painting or arrange pedestals for group exhibitions of discrete sculptures. 


Monday, January 31, 2011

Inspiration and Realization

My friend Tom Rebold just emailed me a fantastic quote from Wendell Berry. Although I can assume Berry was not thinking of sculpture when he wrote this, his words happen to sum up perfectly the enormous and complex challenge of making sculpture. And they parallel and complement the words of sculptors Arthur Ganson and Tony Cragg that I have included below.

"There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say "It is yet more difficult than you thought." This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings."
— Wendell Berry

"...The real, physical world keeps me honest. Because I can imagine anything, but I like the discipline of the actual, physical world. It's a really good grounding plane for me."
––Arthur Ganson (speaking at the DeYoung Museum, SF, October 2010)

"... although sculpture remains for the greater part useless, unlike designed objects, it is an attempt to make dumb material express human thoughts and emotions. It is the attempt not just to project intelligence into the material but also to use material to think with. Sculptures are often and at their best not just the result of an artist taking a material, for example a piece of stone or a lump of clay, out if its normal environment and forcing them into a form which expresses a preformulated notion, but rather the result of a dialogue between the material and the artist. The material finds itself in a new form and the sculptor finds himself with new content and new meaning."
––Tony Cragg, from the exhibition catalog, A New Thing Breathing

It occurred to me after juxtaposing these quotes, that they bring up another, more practical, issue for sculptors. That is, if I succeed merely in "realizing" my "preformulated notion," then there is a good chance that another artist is out there realizing the same notion a week or two before me! This happens with many of my projects. In these cases, the only things that can save my work from sudden obsolescence are the richness and specificity that arise solely from process. This reminds me of yet another quote, from my longtime mentor, Elizabeth King: "It's our process that saves us from the poverty of our intent."